NaBloPoMo

I have a black thumb.

I kill plants. It’s a gift, really. I honestly can’t keep any type of plant alive. I just forget about them, and they die of thirst. The only plant I was somewhat able to keep alive was a climbing ivy that I had next to my desk at work. And the only reason that plant survived was because every day I would dump the remnants of my water cup from the day before into it each morning (99% of the time this was water; a few times it was seltzer and maybe ONE time it was ginger ale).

Because of this, we had serious doubts about me keeping a human alive before Little Mister came along. (NOTE to DCF: he is just fine, and I have never forgotten to feed or water him).

Needless to say, we don’t have many plants at our house. Or if we do (like our very large garden), I’m not in charge of them. It’s just better that way.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t TRIED to raise plants.

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I’d like to introduce you to Rita the Christmas cactus. Rita was a gift to my grandmother Rita when she was in hospice a few years ago. It sat in her windowsill and was blooming beautifully at a time when my grandma Rita’s days were probably a little gloomy. After she died, I took Rita the plant home, as a reminder of the real Rita.

Unfortunately, I just about killed Rita. I sort of remembered to water her, but she didn’t bloom in the spring when she was supposed to. So Rita the cactus went to live with my mother-in-law, to mingle with her Christmas cacti who were thriving. That Christmas, Rita bloomed. She also bloomed the following spring, and the winter after that.

This year, when my mother-in-law saw Rita’s very first blooms, the plant came home with me so I could enjoy her pretty flowers. Admittedly, I was nervous. “What do I have to do to take care of her?” I asked.

“Nothing,” my mother-in-law replied.

“Do I have to water her?” I asked nervously. This was usually where my care taking duties fell down.

“Nope. Just enjoy her!”

So, I enjoyed her. Her flowers were a pretty pink and purple this year. She bloomed, and bloomed and bloomed.

Today would have been my Grandmother Rita’s birthday. I’m so happy her namesake cactus is blooming beautifully (no thanks to me), reminding me of the woman my grandmother was: beautiful in a quiet way, blooming when she was comfortable, and not giving up when someone forgot to give her water for 4 straight months.

This post is dedicated to Rita: the Grandma and the plant, who always made life a little brighter and had a thirst for life.

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Ode to the artichoke.

stuffed artichoke recipeLast week I was out to dinner, and one of the appetizer specials was a stuffed artichoke.

I was immediately transported to my childhood. If you grew up in an Italian family, chances are, stuffed artichokes graced your Sunday dinner table at one time or another. There’s just something about the stuffing – and the effort to eat them, because Lord knows they are a ton of work for very little (delicious) reward – and gliding the leaves over your teeth to remove the ‘meat’.

In my family, my Grandma Rose was the stuffed artichoke expert. She was also the best roasted potato maker; so much so that we would joke that her oven had magical powers because every time she made them, they came out crispy and brown on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside (but I digress).

Anyway, I’ll never forget one Sunday my grandmother had just taken the Corning Ware dish (the white one, with the blue flowers on the front) of stuffed artichokes out of the oven and placed them on the top of the stove to cool. We had both turned our backs for two seconds when all of a sudden we heard a giant CRACK! only to find that the Corning Ware dish (which is designed to withstand high oven heat) cracked apart, scattering shards of ceramic glass on the stove top, on the floor, and – unfortunately – in the artichokes.

Back then, I had no idea how much effort she had put into making those artichokes (not to mention the expense), and why she was so upset when she watched my dad toss them away. Now that I’m older, and I’ve made an artichoke or two in my life, I can appreciate how labor intensive artichokes are. In fact, when I make them, I only make them for me and Mr. KK. My grandmother used to make them for the entire family.

The stuffed artichoke I had at the restaurant the other night was delicious. With a few pieces of bread to dunk in the stuffing and juice, it was practically a meal in itself (when I go back in the near future to have it again, it will be). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. So much so, that I made stuffed artichokes for dinner tonight. And I have to say, they were mighty delicious.

I’m going to try and share the recipe here, because they were that good. But, like any home cook, I made up the recipe as I went along. So, I’ll do my best…

kk’s Stuffed artichoke recipe

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, halved
4-5 slices of bread, processed into crumbs (I used wheat because it’s what I had)
1 clove of garlic, grated
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
salt
olive oil (maybe 1/4-1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

I parboiled the artichoke hearts so they didn’t take as long to cook. Before cooking, I cut the top of the artichoke off (maybe about the top 15%) until I could see the ‘choke’ inside. I then trimmed the coarse, pointy leaves on the outside. I put the artichokes with the lemon in a pot of water and brought it to a boil, cooking the artichokes about 20-25 mins until you can insert a knife into the base easily, but not until they start to fall apart.

While the artichokes are boiling I made the stuffing. Combine the bread crumbs, cheeses, garlic, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Stuffing should be moistened, but not too wet. Once the artichokes are out of the water, I cut the stems off, peel them, and then dice the soft flesh up and put it into the stuffing (that’s just me, you don’t have to do this).

When the artichokes are cooled, open them up slightly until you can use a spoon or tongs to remove the ‘choke’ (the interior prickly leaves, sometimes the ends are purple). Place the artichokes in a casserole dish (oven safe) and fill the middle cavity with stuffing. Then, open up the outer leaves slightly and put stuffing between as many leaves as you can until you use it all up. Drizzle the artichokes with olive oil. Put a bit of water in the casserole dish (I also put white wine in because, why not?) and then cook them in the oven for about 20 minutes until the stuffing is crispy.

Get ready to get messy, there is no sophisticated way to eat a stuffed artichoke. You will literally need a shower after you’re done.

But, man on man, do they remind me of my childhood, and my Grandma Rose.